A community must have music

Local school pupils playing at the Lambeth Sounds music festival
Local school pupils playing at the Lambeth Sounds music festival

With carnival now behind us and holidays coming to an end, students, parents and teachers will be gearing up to go back to school.

So too will some of the same local musicians who have graced the stages of summer festivals around the country. They bring their expertise into schools via the Lambeth Music Service (LMS) and to many other education initiatives across the borough.

Thanks to them, the outstanding musical reputation of South London should go from strength to strength as the baton is passed to new generations.

Music tutors of Lambeth we salute you. We must also support and campaign for you, and for the other things that make community music possible …

LMS employs more than 100 specialist music educators who teach in schools, lead workshops and provide training for over 6,500 children, young people and adults each year. It also runs an impressive events programme which has included concerts featuring 32 primary schools singing together at the Royal Festival Hall and performances by students at the Mighty Hoopla and Cross The Tracks festivals in Brockwell Park.

Its Saturday school at the Brixton Hill Music Centre offers children of all abilities, including those with special educational needs, an array of options including African drumming, steel pan, jazz and rock bands, choirs, orchestral instruments and capoeira. Bursaries are available and classes are also offered to parents so they too can pick up some musical skills and make new friends.

Trevor Kentish, who has taught African drumming at the centre for seven years told me: “Working at the centre is a wonderful experience. It’s inspiring to see the amount of teaching that happens and the number of students who continue their music education independently.”

Senior manager Oliver Bailey added that last September LMS launched Lambeth Sounds which is a hub of 12 partner organisations. They include Brixton Wings in the Angell Town Estate and the Stockwell Music Centre. Both offer affordable tuition and after school programmes.

The Youthsayers is another excellent initiative set up by local musical legends Soothsayers in collaboration with Raw Material and School Ground Sounds. Their website describes the band as “a creative music opportunity for 11 to 18 year olds living in the Lambeth area … offering the chance to work with Soothsayers and other young musicians on Afrobeat and reggae influenced music.”

One of Youthsayers’ current crop of rising talents, Keahnne Carlita Whitby(left), is featured in this month’s Brixton Hi-Five. Other promising looking initiatives include the Groove School based in International House and the Brixton Guitar Club which attracted a regular crowd of adults to the Brixton Pound Café every Wednesday evening until that venue was forced to close.

The club is currently seeking an alternative affordable venue, which serves as a reminder that none of these opportunities can be taken for granted. A decade of austerity politics has led to devastating cuts for many music services, cash-strapped councils have sold off community centres, and hikes in commercial rents are making other spaces unaffordable.

Arguably, the health of a society can be judged by the degree to which people participate in creating culture, rather than just passively consuming it. By that criterion, Brixton is faring better than many places, but we could do more. For people to be able to participate we need music education to be properly funded and accessible for all.

We need support for community events where budding musicians can show us their new skills and others can become inspired. And we need the community spaces in which those things can happen.

For more about Lambeth Sounds (LMS and partners): www.lambethmusic.co.uk

For more about Youthsayers: http://youthsayers.net

For more about Groove School: www.grooveschool.org

Contact the Brixton Guitar Club: info@guitarsofbrixton.com

Dave Randall is a musician and author of

Sound System: The Political Power of Music.